Spring on the York College campus

Trailblazer: Dana (Brubaker) Cotton ’81

Dana Brubaker Cotton looks up at the camera from a lower step on a staircase, wearing a white labcoat

Dana (Brubaker) Cotton ’81 felt like a trailblazer when she decided to enter York College as one of the first students in the new Nursing program. “I was excited to be one of the first.” 

The Lancaster County native had first set her sights on medical illustration. She was told she’d need a bachelor’s degree with a background in sciences if she wanted to pursue that path. Nursing seemed like the best first step. When faculty members were looking for someone to design a pin for the Nursing program, she was happy to lend her talents. “lt was a nice way to contribute something that would be lasting,” she says. As she progressed further along in her studies, Cotton realized she enjoyed the personal interaction that nursing provided. 

Cotton worked for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Occupational Health and ran the Animal Exposure Surveillance Program. She primarily worked with veterinarians to screen human researchers working with primates for tuberculosis or hepatitis B: two deadly diseases for primates. If humans spread these diseases to the primates it would have a devastating effect on research at NIH. 

After two years with the NIH, Cotton accepted a position with the Office of the Attending Physician on Capitol Hill. She was one of 12 civilian nurses working with a team of five Navy internal medicine doctors and a team of Navy corpsmen at the U.S. Capitol. The role of the Office of Attending Physician is to support Congress for continuity of government. For a nurse who loves American history, the 12 years at the U.S. Capitol were quite memorable. 

The next five years were no less memorable when Cotton moved across the street to the Supreme Court’s Health Services Office. It was a unique experience to go from nursing in the Legislative Branch of government to the Judicial Branch. 

On December 31, 2019, Cotton celebrated her retirement from government service. Now relishing her retirement in Maryland, she is volunteering and spending time with her grandson. Looking back, Cotton says she’s proud of the path her career took. She hopes Nursing students just graduating from the program at York College will be open to their own careers going in ways they might not expect. “Don’t shut the door on opportunities that take you in a different direction,” she says. “Sometimes that new direction will take you on an amazing nursing journey you never would have imagined for yourself.”